Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What is a ¼ mile worth?

From: Denise Sweeney
Dennis Purcell
Sent: Thursday, May 22, 2008 12:36 PM
Subject: Flying Pig Marathon

Thank you for your email.

We just received the results from the 2008 Flying Pig Race Officials.

Your time of 3:29:25 at the 2008 Flying Pig Marathon will be accepted for the April 20, 2009 Boston Marathon. Registration will begin on our website on September 3, 2008 at

Best of luck with your training! We look forward to your participation in the 113th running of the Boston Marathon!

Denise Sweeney
Manager, Registration Processing
Boston Athletic Association
1 Ash Street
Hopkinton, MA 01748

So I am in. I am a qualifier. It is an achievement I am very proud of, and even though it did not happen the way I had envisioned, it still feels good. It also allows me to tell you what the end of the Flying Pig was really like. I had not wanted to say much about it in case it sounded too pitiful or like I was whining.

As I have said before, I started to slow around mile 23. Up until this point, I had tried to push the thought of actually qualifying out of my mind. Sure I was trying to stay on a qualifying pace, but I wanted to allow myself an out if things got too bad. I knew I had some cushion, but it really started to be a struggle. Still I was feeling good about my chances. I had not really thought too much about the detour, because at the time, I really did not know how much distance it had added. I ran that “mile” in 8:35 which I attributed to my slowing down. In fact I had run that mile in 7:10 – the fastest of the race.

During mile 25 I heard what I thought was the 3:30 pace group coming up on me. I felt I must be mistaken because I had almost a two minute cushion by my calculations. But when the pace group leader passed me holding up that balloon with “3:30” on it I was crestfallen. How could that have happened? How could it all be slipping away so close to the finish?

I bore down and tried to keep up, but as they continued to pull away I became discouraged. This was exactly what I did not want to happen. I had raced hard, pushed my body and would come up just short. I would be physically drained and sore after the race and not have a BQ to show for it. I thought I was stupid for trying. I should have been happy just running easy, enjoying the race and not worrying about time. But that is not how I am wired.

The point from when the pace group passed me until mile 26 was the low point of the race. It might be the low point of my athletic career. How could I have thought I could run that fast? Why was it important? It certainly did not feel very important right then. It is no wonder that with this all going on in my head and the fatigue of 25 miles in my body that this was the slowest mile of the race.

When I hit the 26 mile marker something clicked in me. In one of those moments that can only happen late in a marathon when the body is failing and the mind does not think straight I saw the clock at “3:30:15”. I had 0.2 miles to go. Maybe I can still make it I thought. Maybe with the difference between my gun time and the chip time I had a chance! I picked up the pace and gave everything I had. I knew I had 44 seconds on the gun time. The next 1:50 was the most painful of my life, but it represented a time when I pushed myself further than I had thought possible. Good thing my mind was not thinking clearly enough to calculate that I would have needed a 7:25 pace to get in under 3:30:59. I would never had tried.

I crossed the line and checked my watch – 3:32:12. Even with the 44 seconds I knew I had not made it. You know you are not in good shape when a volunteer takes your arm and asks you twice if you are alright. Looking at my finish line photo I can now see why. My expression was pained and I was unsteady on my feet.

I walked through the finish area, got a bottle of water and sat down on the curb. My legs would not work. I could not muster the energy to stand and I was dejected.

I knew I had missed a BQ and I knew I had not missed it by much. I had run a great race and had a PR and a time I should be proud of, but it was not what I wanted. I felt mad that I was not strong enough at the end to push harder. At the same time I was mad at myself for feeling so selfish. I had just ran a PR, and by a significant margin. I did not want to always say I had just missed a BQ as a preface to a wonderful finish time. It was the oddest mixture of feelings I ever had.

In the end it all worked out. According to my watch I passed the 26 mile marker in a chip time of 3:29:25. This would have been equivalent to 26.2 miles. There are many things you can’t control on race day, but one thing should always be the same – the race should be 26.2 miles long. I do not fault the race organizers – they did a great job with an extremely difficult situation and always had the safety of the firefighters, racers and volunteers as the main consideration.

During my training runs I had always thought of how I would react when I crossed with a BQ. Arms raised, tears of joy cries of “I did it!” None of that happened, but a BQ is a BQ.

I am very appreciative of the Pig and Boston for considering the extra distance of the race. Now it is time to get ready. The recovery is over and the base training begins. I can’t wait to toe the line in Hopkinton next April.

No matter what comes, now I will always be a qualifier.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Joy Of Running

Tomorrow is the first day that I can really run after the marathon. For the first few days I could hardly walk, let alone run. I felt so stiff and sore; I wondered if I would ever run again. The whole family thought it funny (in a nice way) that this guy who just ran 26.2 miles couldn’t walk down the stairs without a struggle.

When Hillary and I went out for our Tuesday morning run, I tried to run a few steps and then said I could not do it. She would have to run on her own. I walked for three miles, while she went ahead and ran. I struggled to keep from trying to run, knowing it would do more harm than good.

Later that week, I was playing ball with our dog Molly when I noticed how much she loved running. If you ever want to see what the pure joy of running looks like, play ball with a dog. The eyes flash, the tail wags the ears lay back and she goes for all she is worth, just to drop the ball at my feet and do it again.

Seeing her run I realized how much joy there is in running for me, and I how much I miss it when I can’t get out on the road and chase my own kind of ball. Of course for me, the ball is not a purely physical thing; unless you count the physical fitness that comes from running. That is one of my goals, but there is more. There is the emotional and mental fitness that comes from pushing against the ground and propelling oneself through the air. Moving your body and engaging the mind until the whole process turns into a kind of joy – the joy of running.

I wonder sometimes if my eyes flash like Molly’s when I run.

Monday, May 5, 2008

2008 Cincinnati Flying Pig Race Report

I went into this race feeling very good. My training had gone well, averaging 50 miles a week. I was in great shape. My last long run had been a 16 miler at an 8:05 pace, over a very hilly course. I felt that I had a shot at 3:30, which was my BQ, but everything had to go perfectly for me to reach that goal. As the race drew nearer I made up my mind to give it a shot.

The morning of the race was great. At the 6:30am start the sky was clear, the sun just coming up and temperatures in the upper 40’s. I decided to line up with the 3:30 pace group and see how things went. At 6:25 they announced that at the 20-mile mark of the course there had been a house fire, so they were delaying the start 15 minutes and making a detour on the course. They announced it would make the course “a smidgen longer”. Everyone was in a good mood and the weather was nice so it was not that big of a deal.

I stayed with the pace group over the bridges into Kentucky and then back into Cincinnati. I stuck with them up the long climb to mile 9. I was feeling OK, but I was wishing I had tapered a little more the week prior to the marathon.

From mile 9 to mile to mile 16 I picked up the pace, not really on purpose, but because I was feeling good and I did not seem like I pushing. My legs did start to feel it at this point, but I kept telling myself to run the mile I was in – I think I heard that from Matt at the Dump Runners’ Club – and it helped.

When I got to Mile 20 I was about 2 minutes ahead of pace and starting to think it might be possible to BQ. I knew I was slowing, but I thought I just might have enough to make it. Then we hit the detour caused by the fire and I started to get concerned. It seemed like a significant addition, but there was not much I could do about it.

At Mile 23 things started to unravel. My mind was willing, but there was just no response in my legs. I started to give back time. Mile 23 – 8:35, Mile 24 – 8:24, Mile 25 – 8:51. It was here that the 3:30 pace group caught and passed me. I heard them say they were a minute ahead of pace, so I still had some hope. Mile 26- 10:19. I tried to push, throw in some surges, put there was nothing left. The last 0.2 in 1:50 for a final chip time of 3:31:26 – 27 seconds away from a BQ.

Now that is the bad news, well not all of the bad news. The “smidgen” of a detour, they announced later, had added ¼ mile to the course. I missed a BQ by 27 seconds on a course that was ¼ mile too long!

But there is good news. This was a PR. My previous best was 3:33:49 in 2001, my first marathon. That was also before my ACL replacement in my left knee. Last year, my first marathon after surgery I ran a 3:50. I had improved 19 minutes from last year and 2 minutes from my all time best.

After the race I was drained and having bad cramping in both legs. I thought it best to go to the medical tent and on my way there my left calf cramped up and I went down. They wheeled me into the medical area, gave me some chips, water and a muscle massage. I felt a little guilty using the medical services for something like cramps, but in hindsight it was the best thing to do.

I learned a few things from this race:

1. I should have done some runs longer than 16 and at a marathon goal pace. My weekly mileage and speed work was good, but I think I needed some longer runs.

2. I should have tapered more the week prior to the marathon. My legs felt heavier than they should have early in the race.

3. I should have stayed with the pace group longer, even if I felt the pace was too slow. It might have saved me later in the race.

2. I should have drunk more on the course. I thought I had done well drinking, but the cramping after the race and my last mile, indicates that I was de-hydrated.

5. I know I can reach a BQ if things go right and I correct a few things in my training and racing.

I must say, I feel this was a bittersweet race. I am happy with a PR, but it is too close to a BQ that I can’t stop thinking “what-if”. I am sure time will put things into better perspective, but right now it is hard.

I want to thank John Ellis for looking over my training plan back in January and recommending a few changes. I think it made a big difference.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Runner's Prayer

Every run is special. It does not matter if it is good or bad, fast or slow. Being out there in the darkness of the early morning I feel at peace and closer to God. After every run, I say this prayer in the hopes that I will be able to continue to run:

Dear God, thank you for these legs that have carried over the miles.
May you bless them and keep them strong and healthy and running for many years,
And may they always walk in the path you have laid out before them.

Thank you for this heart that pumps blood and energy throughout my body.
May you bless it and keep it strong and healthy and beating for many years.
And may it be filled with your spirit so that your light may shine on others through me.

And thank you for this mind that gives me the discipline to get up and out the door,
and the will to keep going when I feel like stopping.
Like Solomon I ask only for wisdom; the wisdom to know your will and the courage to follow where it leads.

All this I ask in the name of your son, my savior, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit are honored and glorified, forever and ever. Amen.

It seems like the least I can do,